Last Thursday I decided I finally had enough breathing room from work to try to visit Stewart Filmscreens on Don Stewart's public invitation. I didn't know what to expect, after all one gets an impression from reading posts that is a far cry from actually seeing and talking to a living breathing person. I only knew Don via AVSForum posts. I generally don't like high performance marketeering.
If anything, I went with a bias. I don't generally like to pay premium prices, but I wanted to see what Stewart had to offer. I have a DIY fabric screen and I am not completely happy with the texture. Being a fan of gray screens, I wanted to see the Grayhawk. I was worried about the short notice.
Don gave me a quick reply. In essence, it was "Come on down!".
Friday morning, my day off, I headed down with my projector. It was raining and hard to get up and out. We had an appointment for 11:00 AM. I was lucky, the traffic at LAX , although a parking lot going north, was free sailing going south. The rain was even clearing.
I got to Stewart Filmscreens in Torrance. From the outside, it could have been any mid-size manufacturing operation. I checked in with the receptionist, she was quite friendly, I was early by 20 minutes. After 5, Don met me in the lobby and we headed straight to the screen room.
They had been playing with a Runco VX-1c? that was promptly replaced with my projector. In 10 minutes it was scenes from "The Fifth Element".
From then on, it was play time. We played with the projector, we changed samples, we exchanged questions, we got more samples, we viewed some more, etc. I brought my Kodak grey card for reference.
We had some questions about gain and headed to the back shack where gain measurements are made. We measured my Kodak Gray cards. (Interesting sidebar: it seems that 90% Kodak gray comes out at about 1.1 gain.)
Then Don gave me a tour. The site is impressive. Larger screens can be made at what I consider (best guess) up to 50'x100' by giant spraying machines. I saw too much to go into great detail. In summary, I was impressed with the flexibility with which the production line can be adapted to different products, the level of quality going into the products, and most importantly, that there was a great deal of pride that went into the production as far as I could tell.
I have to confess, Don did buy lunch, as publicly offered. Needless to say, I would have been happy to buy lunch given the quality time I was able to spend at the factory.
Enough narrative, now some data. We measured the ANSI output and contrast of my projector, the NEC MT1040. In retrospect, the output measurement was suspect. When I arrived, the projector seemed out of its normal range and probably lost its settings with the loss of power. I believe we set the contrast/white level too low. Needless to say the ANSI output came to a measely 350 lumens out of a nominally 1300 lumen projector and the ANSI contrast ratio was at best 50-60. If adjusted normally, my guess is that it would have been 700 lumens white with 6-7 lumens black. The bulb has 1000 hours on it and it's beginning to loose intensity. Also adjustment always reduces peak levels. I may want to buy a new bulb. This makes me wonder how much manufacturers cheat when they specify bulb life and light output.
In spite of the lower than desired levels, the Greyhawk gave a great picture, much better than the Stewart matte white reference used for comparison. This was quite obvious when we opened the door to the screen room to intentionally add ambient.
In comparison, my DIY gray screen has an apparent gain of ~0.7 compared to the Greyhawk 0 .8. The Greyhawk has superior texture, a hard finish which makes it durable, and some reflective gain which increases brightness under ambient conditions. My gray screen had a yellowish tint in comparison with the Grayhawk. I would prefer a slightly darker screen than the Greyhawk, but in terms of off-the-shelf screens, IMO, the Greyhawk is the benchmark screen for comparison when it comes to Home Theater quality for LCD, DLP or DILA projectors.
The main asset of the Greyhawk which is hard to beat with a DIY screen is the uniformity in a gray screen. My guess is that one could get similar results with suitable darkened flat white paint on a texture-free medium. To do this, one would need a high quality paint sprayer not accessible to the normal DIYer. In retrospect, my gray fabric works quite well simply because its relatively uniform. For the DIY crowd, I recommend fabric if you can find a suitable size.
With regard to Don Stewart for those who have never met him, he seems to have the same interests and questions that many home theater fans have and is a very likable person. By the way, if anyone knows how to get the LA HDTV stations on the ocean side of Palos Verdes, he would be interested in finding out how. I don't think a BUD is an option.